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In this reprise of Othello, star director Ivo van Hove’s first Shakespeare production for Toneelgroep Amsterdam, part of the fun for those who witnessed the 2003 version is seeing how the actors have aged and what the time lapse does to the play. I wasn’t there twelve years ago, but Hans Kesting in the title role and Roeland Fernhout as Iago seem to be at their peak as a formidable acting superpower.
Cast & characters
For those who don’t, eh, remember: Othello is a warlord in Cyprus. Iago is his standard bearer but turns sour at being passed over for a promotion. He sets about making his master believe his wife Desdemona (Hélène Devos) is having an affair with the young Cassio (Robert de Hoog). A handkerchief, symbol of the happy marriage, is planted in the latter’s bedroom and becomes an instrument of disbelief and death.
A sea battle is brilliantly staged with bare theatrical mechanics.
Kesting as Othello is a white actor playing a black man who in turn is referred to throughout the play as ‘Arab’ and ‘Moor’ with the same ease. Hafid Bouazza’s version highlights the undertones of racism much more than is usually the case.
Iago is the diabolic centerpiece. He creates his own myth and plays the lead in it, constantly manipulating Othello and others, spurred on by a dark jealousy. Janni Goslinga (who was also in the 2003 version) is magnificent as Emilia, Desdemona’s maid who at last sees through the shenanigans but lacks resolve – with fatal consequences.
Set design by Jan Versweyveld lingers in the mind long after the curtain has dropped. In the first act, a suspended punching bag in an otherwise mundane interior testifies to Othello’s brute physical force. A sea battle is brilliantly staged with bare theatrical mechanics.
Turning Shakespeare inside out and presenting a powerful narrative based on this has become a specialty of the house (i.e. the Stadsschouwburg). Seeing Van Hove’s first one reignite is a true pleasure.
Photo by Chris van der Burght.
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